“Vita di Gesù”, ("Life of Christ" ) by Andrea Tornielli commented on by Pope Francis “Vita di Gesù”, ("Life of Christ" ) by Andrea Tornielli commented on by Pope Francis 

Pope: A "Life of Jesus" for a closer relationship with Him

Andrea Tornielli's book "Life of Jesus", with an introduction by Pope Francis, hits the shelves in Italian on 27 September. The Editorial Director of the Vatican's Dicastery for Communication tells the story of Christ alternating the Gospel texts with a personal and historical reconstruction of details and events that are not part of the evangelists' narration. Woven into the story are comments by Pope Francis.

Pope Francis

A significant aspect that always strikes me when reading the Gospel is the importance of the looks, a detail on which this Life of Christ will also dwell on often. Some glances cross each other – let’s think of Zacchaeus, who climbed up the tree somewhat grotesquely. He wants to see Jesus without being seen, but instead is looked at by the Lord who tells him he wants to go to Zacchaeus’s house. Let’s take the blind man of Jericho – he could not see but was seeking God’s gaze. He wanted to be looked at by Jesus and would not stop screaming, asking, begging, till he found that gaze resting on him.

There are looks on every page of the Gospel. This is how people encounter Jesus. There are also the looks of the doctors of the law, of those who were seeking to put him to the test, and even the amazed looks of those who did not understand. The way they looked at each other is important; the looks the people involved exchanged are important.  It is not enough only to read, listen. It is beautiful to enter personally into the Gospel episodes, reproducing Jesus’s look in my mind and heart, to imagine, for example, among the many other people who were there, his eyes resting on a poor widow who offers a few small coins in the Temple. Jesus’s eyes had been observing the teachers of the law, walking in the Temple so as to be noticed and to show themselves off as perfect. Then his eyes were attracted to that widow who was offering two coins, two cents – more than everyone else because it was all that she had. That look is the canonization of her generosity.

Let’s think again about Jairus who goes to ask for help for his seriously ill daughter, and when, while he is before the Teacher, he is told that she has died in the meantime. He looks at Jesus, and Jesus looks at him and reassures him. Jesus has the unique ability of looking into others’ eyes. And while Jairus is telling Jesus that it is useless to go to his house, Jesus continues on and brings his daughter back to life. But everything began with a look.

Even the widow of Nain certainly looked at the Lord when he approached her with his disciples. What could that afflicted woman, bowed down with sorrow, have been asking with her eyes? Certainly not the life of her son, for it was certain that he was dead and no one could bring him back to life. And yet, she was asking something with her eyes. Looking at her and her sorrow, Jesus was profoundly moved. He drew near the funeral procession and raised her dead son, giving him back to his mother.

Other times we find ourselves before the looks of those who at first are not capable of seeing the Lord. Let’s think of the disciples of Emmaus it was as if their eyes were veiled. Let’s think of Mary Magdalene when she went to the tomb and mistook the risen Jesus for the gardener. And then the Lord manifested himself.

The same thing happens to us when we take the Gospel in our hands, when we read something, and at a certain moment the Lord reveals himself before our eyes, manifests himself, and we live the unique spiritual experience of amazement through which we encounter Jesus.

[…] So let us approach the episodes in the life of Jesus with eyes filled with contemplation. It is true that faith begins with hearing, but the encounter begins with seeing. This is why it is important to listen to and see Jesus in the Gospels. Memory is connected more easily with seeing. This makes the Christian life grow, which, as Saint John teaches, but which is also found in more general terms throughout all of Sacred Scripture, is the memory of those things that we have seen and heard.

This book was written using the words of the Gospels. This Life of Jesus can help us enter into contact with him so that he does not remain only a great figure, a historical protagonist, a religious leader, or a teacher of morals, but that he might become each person’s Lord each day – the Lord of life. I hope that those who read it might see Jesus, encounter Jesus, and receive the grace – which is a gift of the Holy Spirit – of allowing themselves to be attracted by him.

Here is an excerpt from Chapter 8 of the book The Life of Jesus*

“Blessed... Blessed....” The Kingdom of God that Raises up the Lowly

Year 28 A.D., August

The crowd was following him because they were looking for miracles. The poorest were going to him, those who lived only on alms, the outcasts, those who did not fit in, the ones who felt like everyone was going wrong. Some had sick ones at home. There were even some evildoers and others who were deemed unrespectable in public. They recognized in the Teacher an authority never seen before, so different from so many self-proclaimed “messiahs.”

His eyes struck them even before his words. It was striking the way he looked at you, making you feel welcome, understood, loved, while at the same time, laying bare the truth of life, of sin, of human misery.

[...] That day, as he looked at them with eyes filled with love, compassion, friendship, Jesus understood that the moment had finally arrived to say more, to proclaim the kingdom of God to everyone, not only to his followers. So, after calling the twelve and spending some time with them, he decided to speak to the crowd that was waiting for him.

It was morning. The sun was already shining high, casting brilliant reflections on the waters of the Sea of Galilee on that very calm summer day. It was not that hot. All of the nature surrounding them seemed predisposed to welcome what he was about to say. Behind them was the “mount,” a green hill. A light breeze coming down from the top of the mount helped carry his words to those farther away. In front of him was an impressive expanse of people who had arrived not only from Capernaum and other cities in Galilee, but also from Jerusalem, Sidon and Tyre.

[…] Each face manifested a question, an unspoken anguish, a doubt, some pain, a desire, restlessness, a wound. None of them would have considered themselves satisfied or at peace. These were the crowds that always succeeded in soliciting Jesus’s compassion […] Mothers would lift up their smallest children so he might look at them, bless them. For many of these women, their little children were everything they had. Jesus rested his eyes on them, knowing how they would grow up, who they would become, how their lives would turn out. He prayed to his Father for each of these children so that the gates of Heaven might be open to them.

After looking at the crowd a long time, he signaled to everyone to sit down so they could listen better. Then he began to shout that word, repeating it many times: “Blessed… blessed… blessed.” The people who were the farthest from him, on the edge, could distinguish only that word, but they understood that the Teacher was speaking about being happy, about a happiness for them.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Jesus said,
“for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall receive mercy.

[…] A surreal silence enveloped that hill, from the banks of the lake to its summit. […] To the right of the plateau, under cover of an olive tree, was a woman who had been divorced by her husband when she became pregnant with his child. Rebecca was her name. She was still extremely beautiful despite the hardships she had been forced to live since then. Ashamed, she kept her eyes downcast, not having the courage to raise them toward Jesus, not even from afar, almost afraid of meeting his gaze. Before she could hold him back, her son Yehoshua ran up to get closer to the Nazarene. He wanted to hear Jesus better. As the Teacher began to speak, he sat down just beside his feet. Yehoshua was not able to touch them only because Peter grabbed him, reaching out his hand as if to catch a fish that had jumped out of the water, and held Yehoshua next to him.

Yehoshua was six years old, with two bright eyes and chestnut curls filled with sand and sweat. The little one was impressed by only a few of Jesus’s words – “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” “Those who mourn,” like his mother who had nothing to live on and spent her days in search of a bit of food in exchange for some menial service, ashamed because of her condition as a repudiated wife. Before Peter could stop him, the little one got up all of a sudden and ran to his mother. Jesus followed him out of the corner of his eye. Yes, he had said that also for him, for that child; even for her, for that mother….

“Mamma, ìmma....” The little one went up to her saying, “Even you are blessed. Why are you crying? He’s the one who said it! He said you’ll be comforted!”

[…] Those words babbled by her son were a promise, redemption, hope. “There is really nothing wrong with me,” Rebecca thought. “I’m not cursed,” she repeated, trying to hold onto Jesus’s words that were completely one with his look of mercy. […] It was true, the beatitudes promised something for the future. But she could already sense consolation because Jesus had looked at her. Feeling loved and understood like she had never felt until that moment in her troubled life, Rebecca finally felt the courage to lift up her eyes to contemplate the Teacher who was speaking. He was speaking for her too, just for her.

A Piemme publication in Italian for Mondadori Libri S.p.A. Publishing House
© 2022 Mondadori Libri S.p.A., Milano
all rights reserved of papal texts:
© Libreria Editrice Vaticana-Dicastery for Comunication

The book will be published in English at a later date.

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27 September 2022, 10:16